We have several items planned on this basic theme, but this one just became time-sensitive, and so it moves to the front of the line. There was (and maybe still is) a time when Democrats could not strike any sort of deal with communist nations without being lambasted for being foolish and weak and "soft on Communism." For that reason, only Nixon (or some other Republican) could go to China. The same dynamic holds today with the nations of the Middle East, particularly Iran. In case there was any doubt on this point, we got a reminder yesterday when the Biden administration announced that it had negotiated the release of five Americans being held without trial by the Iranian government.
The details of the deal are pretty basic. The five newly freed folks include Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi and Morad Tahbaz, who were held, for years, in one of Iran's most notorious prisons (Evin Prison). The names of the other two are not yet known, but whoever they are, they probably never played in the WNBA. In exchange, South Korea unfroze $6 billion in assets, held in deference to U.S. sanctions on Iran. These assets have already been transferred to Qatar, who will oversee how the money is spent, making certain that it's used solely for humanitarian purposes. In addition, five Iranians held in the U.S. will be returned to Iran.
One could read the previous paragraph and reach the conclusion that it's a pretty reasonable deal. However, you could look long and hard and still not find a prominent Republican who feels that way. Republican senators (particularly the Iran hawks, like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX), pretty much every Republican presidential candidate including Donald Trump, and dozens of members of the U.S. House crapped all over it. The basic list of complaints was: (1) this enables terrorism, (2) this encourages further kidnappings/detentions, (3) you can't trust Qatar to make sure the money is spent on humanitarian stuff, and (4) Biden is weak and got steamrolled by the Iranians.
In response to this, we're going to offer up some thoughts, in no particular order:
In short, we don't really buy most of the criticism, which comes off as knee-jerk and which we would not hear if Donald Trump made the exact same deal. From where we sit, the only concern that has merit is the argument that if you pay to redeem hostages, you encourage the taking of more hostages. Of course, it could also be argued that if having five people rotting in prison cells isn't getting a response, maybe having ten people will. In the end, we find ourselves in agreement with CNN's Peter Bergen, who writes that the best option, from among a bunch of bad ones, is to make Americans very aware of the risks they take in traveling to hostile countries, and then to hope they heed those warnings and avoid going.
Because American voters do not generally pay too much attention to foreign affairs, we doubt this story will do much to affect the presidential race. That said, there are about 60 Americans currently being held by hostile governments without justification (in the view of the State Department). If the Biden administration brings, say, half of those people home in the next year, then it could get interesting in terms of feathers in Biden's cap.
And incidentally, if you have suggestions for issues where the Democrats just can't win or those where the Republicans just can't win, we continue to welcome those. (Z)